G.R. No. 137296 June 26, 2003
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee,
DIONISIO VICENTE y QUINTO, Accused-Appellant.
D E C I S I O N
Retaliation is different from self-defense. In retaliation, the aggression that was begun by the injured party already ceased to exist when the accused attacked him. In self-defense, the aggression was still existing when the aggressor was injured by the accused.1
The present case is a clear illustration of retaliation and self-defense.
On appeal is the Decision2 dated December 15, 1998 of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 42, Dagupan City, in Criminal Case No. 98-02266-D finding Dionisio Q. Vicente, appellant, guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of murder and sentencing him to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua and to indemnify the heirs of the victim, Manuel C. Quinto, Jr., the amount of ₱50,000.00 as civil indemnity, ₱88,000.00 as actual damages, ₱10,000.00 as attorney’s fees, ₱50,000.00 as moral damages and costs of suit.
In the Information3 dated July 15, 1998, appellant was charged with the crime of murder committed as follows:
“That on or about May 30,1998 in the evening thereof, at barangay Gueguesangen, municipality of Mangaldan, province of Pangasinan, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, armed with a bladed weapon, with intent to kill, with treachery and evident premeditation, did then and there, wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously, attack and stab MANUEL C. QUINTO, JR., causing his death shortly thereafter due to ‘CARDIORESPIRATORY ARREST SECONDARY TO HYPOVOLEMIC SHOCK DUE TO A STAB WOUND’ as per Certificate of Death issued by Dr. Ophelia Rivera, M.D., Rural Health Officer, Mangaldan, Pangasinan, to the damage and prejudice of the legal heirs of said deceased Manuel C. Quinto, Jr. and other consequential damages relative thereto.
“CONTRARY to Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by RA 7659.”
Upon arraignment, appellant pleaded not guilty.4 He invoked self-defense, thus, a reverse trial ensued. Appellant, Hilda Vicente, Linda Vicente and Dr. Ophelia Rivera testified for the defense. The prosecution presented as its witnesses Jose Noe, Sr., Ronald Terte, and Juliana Quinto.
The version of the defense is as follows:
On May 30, 1998, at 8:30 o’ clock in the evening, while appellant was having supper in his house at Gueguesangen, Mangaldan, Pangasinan, his brothers-in-law, Anoy and Sonny, quarreled. Anoy was abrasively scolding Sonny for smoking and gambling. This caused the latter to howl at the top of his voice. The victim, then Chairman of the Sangguniang Kabataan, responded to Sonny’s unusual cry. He entered appellant’s house and suddenly pushed Anoy, causing him to fall to the floor. Appellant pacified the victim saying, “don’t mind them because they are brothers and Anoy is only advising Sonny.”5 The victim felt insulted by such remark and said, “Is that it? I am insulted. I regret coming here.”6 Thus, he went home and got a steel pipe. Upon his return, he hit appellant at his upper left arm7 and shouted at him, “You are shit, vulva of your mother, I will kill you today.”8 But appellant was able to seize the steel pipe from the victim, prompting the latter to retreat and go home.
Present during the squabble were appellant’s wife Linda and sister Hilda. Linda advised appellant not to mind the victim, while Hilda called Kagawad Elias Fernandez. Appellant reported to the latter the unpleasant incident. While they were talking outside the house,9 the victim passed by.10 He approached Kagawad Fernandez and invited him to go to the dance hall.11 Then he tapped appellant’s right shoulder,12 causing him to be pushed a “little bit” backward. Without any warning, the victim pulled out a knife and tried to stab appellant, shouting, “I will see to it that I will kill you tonight.”13 Appellant held the victim’s wrist and they grappled for the possession of the knife.14 While the knife was pointed at the victim, appellant accidentally stabbed him.15
Appellant surrendered to Kagawad Fernandez who, in turn, brought him to the police station.
Dr. Ophelia Rivera testified that two days after the incident, appellant was brought to her clinic for medico legal purposes. He had a hematoma on his upper left arm.16 He was also complaining of pain in the head although there was no external indication of injury.
The witnesses for the prosecution presented a different story.
Ronald Terte narrated that on May 30, 1998, at around 9:30 o’clock in the evening, he was in the house of the victim at Gueguesangen, Mangaldan, there being a barrio fiesta.17 They heard unusual cries from the neighborhood. So they proceeded to appellant’s house and found that his brothers-in-law, Anoy and Sonny, were quarrelling.18 The victim tried to pacify Anoy.19 This infuriated appellant, thus, he drew a “rambo knife” and aimed it at the victim. Threatened, he and Ronald immediately went home.
Thereafter, appellant followed the victim to his house and challenged him to a fight. The victim could only answer back, “If you want we will rent a box ring and we will fight.” 20
At around 9:45 o’ clock in the evening, the victim and Ronald Terte returned to the house of appellant as the former intended to talk to him. On their way, they saw appellant conversing with Kagawad Fernandez. The victim greeted21 Kagawad Fernandez who inquired, “Are we going to the dance hall?”22 The victim answered in the affirmative. Then as a gesture of reconciliation, he extended his hand to appellant. However, appellant suddenly drew a knife and stabbed the victim in the chest.23 The victim uttered, “Pare, I was hit.”24 Ronald immediately brought him to the hospital but he was pronounced dead on arrival.
Jose Noe, Sr., a 64-year old resident of Gueguesangen, Mangaldan, testified that on the same date and time, he saw appellant and Kagawad Fernandez engaged in a serious conversation.25 He heard appellant saying, he would kill the victim.26 At that time, the victim and his companion passed by. Upon seeing Kagawad Fernandez, the victim greeted him, “Kagawad, you are here.”27 Kagawad Fernandez then answered “yes.” Then the victim advised appellant to “forget what had happened.”28 At this point, appellant abruptly drew his knife and stabbed the victim in the chest.29
Juliana C. Quinto, the victim’s mother, testified that she spent ₱20,500.00 for his funeral services,30 ₱14,000.00 for his tomb,31 ₱50,000.00 for his internment,32 and ₱2,000.00 for his autopsy.33 When asked what she felt over the death of her son, she said that she always cried and suffered anxiety.34
On December 15, 1998, the trial court rendered a decision, the dispositive portion of which reads:
“WHEREFORE, premises considered, the accused DIONISIO VICENTE is hereby found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of Murder as charged and he is hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua. In addition, he has to indemnify the private offended party the amount of ₱50,000.00 for the death of Manuel Quinto, Jr. He is likewise ordered to pay ₱20,500.00 for funeral services, ₱10,000.00 for the construction of the tomb, ₱4,000.00 for the washed out of the tomb, ₱50,000.00 for the amount spent for the vigil, ₱2,000.00 for the autopsy of the cadaver of Manuel Quinto, Jr., ₱500.00 for the funeral mass, and ₱1,000.00 for the cemetery lot, or a total of ₱88,000.00 as actual damages, ₱10,000.00 as attorney’s fees, and ₱50,000.00 as moral damages, plus costs of suit. The period under which the accused has been placed under detention is to be deducted against his sentence since reclusion perpetua, under RA 7659, has a range of 20 years and 1 day to 40 years.
In finding the presence of treachery, the trial court ratiocinated:
“It is an oft-repeated rule that treachery to be considered as a qualifying circumstance as charged in the information should be present at the inception of the incident. This rule, however, admits of an exception. When there is a second stage of the incident as in this case, treachery should be considered as a qualifying aggravating circumstance if used as a means to insure the success of an attack against a fellow protagonist during the said second stage of the incident. Therefore, the public prosecutor who charged the accused with murder was correct in contrast to the recommendation of the Investigating Judge of the lower court who conducted the preliminary investigation x x x.”36
Unable to accept the verdict, appellant comes before us interposing the following assignments of error:
THE COURT A QUO ERRED IN NOT GIVING CREDENCE TO THE ACCUSED’S CLAIM OF SELF-DEFENSE;
THE COURT A QUO ERRED IN FINDING THE PRESENCE OF THE QUALIFYING CIRCUMSTANCE OF TREACHERY IN THIS CASE; AND
ASSUMING ARGUENDO THAT THE ACCUSED IS LIABLE FOR THE KILLING OF THE VICTIM, THE COURT A QUO ERRED IN NOT FINDING THE ACCUSED GUILTY OF HOMICIDE ONLY AND NOT OF MURDER.”37
Appellant argues that his claim of self-defense is buttressed by the fact that he immediately surrendered to the authorities after the incident and that the victim sustained only one stab wound. Also, he stresses that if a crime was indeed committed, it is only homicide because the attack was frontal and that a heated altercation preceded the stabbing. Lastly, he contends that since he sustained an injury in his upper left arm, as confirmed by Dr. Rivera, it follows that he is not the unlawful aggressor.
The Solicitor General counters that appellant’s claim of self-defense is weak and unfounded because: first, as between appellant and the victim, it was the former who had more reason to harbor ill-feelings; second, the victim’s gesture of tapping appellant’s shoulder was a sign of goodwill; third, the victim was stabbed in the chest indicating an intent to kill on the part of appellant; fourth, appellant did not claim self-defense when he surrendered to Kagawad Fernandez and the police; and fifth, he failed to present the knife to the authorities. The Solicitor General likewise maintains that treachery was present because there was an element of surprise in the attack.
When the accused interposes self-defense, he must prove that: (1) he is not the unlawful aggressor; (2) there was lack of sufficient provocation on his part; and (3) he employed reasonable means to prevent or repel the aggression.38 Although all these elements must concur, self- defense is perched on proof of unlawful aggression on the part of the victim. Without it, there can be no self-defense, complete or incomplete.
Under the circumstances here, we are convinced that appellant is the unlawful aggressor. As maybe gleaned from the narrations of the witnesses, the incident has two stages. The first stage took place in appellant’s house where the victim felt insulted when rebuked by the appellant for interfering in a family squabble. This prompted the victim to hit appellant’s upper left arm with a steel pipe. Afterwards, the victim left.
The second stage began when the victim met appellant and Kagawad Fernandez along the road. At this time, the victim wanted to reconcile with the appellant. In fact, he offered appellant a handshake, telling him to forget what happened. Unfortunately, appellant, who had not yet shaken off his ire against the victim, stabbed the latter.
While admittedly, the victim was the unlawful aggressor during the first stage of the incident, however, he ceased to be in the second stage. The lapse of an appreciable time interval had cooled off his head as shown by the fact that he was trying to shake appellant’s hand and telling him, “forget what happened.”
Unlawful aggression presupposes an actual, sudden and unexpected attack, or imminent danger thereof.39 For one to be considered the unlawful aggressor, he must be shown to have exhibited external acts clearly showing his intent to cause and commit harm to the other.40 In the case at bar, the prosecution witnesses belied any act of aggression on the part of the victim. The evidence shows he was unarmed and had no idea of the impending attack against him.
Certainly, the victim’s act of aggression during the first stage of the incident does not justify appellant’s conduct during the second stage. Settled is the rule that when unlawful aggression ceases, the defender has no longer any right to kill or wound the former aggressor, otherwise, retaliation, and not self-defense is committed.41
Appellant implores us to give credence to the testimonies of the defense witnesses. We are not swayed. It is a well-settled principle that when it comes to the matter of credibility, the appellate courts generally do not overturn the findings of the trial courts. The latter are in a best position to ascertain and measure the sincerity and spontaneity of witnesses through their actual observation of the witnesses’ manner of testifying, demeanor and behavior in court.42 We see no reason to deviate from this principle.
With marked significance is the fact that there appears no motive on the part of the prosecution witnesses Ronald Terte and Jose Noe, Sr. to falsely testify against appellant. On his part, appellant proffered no explanation why these witnesses implicated him. Worse, while the prosecution presented disinterested witnesses, the defense called to the witness stand only appellant’s wife and sister. Though there is no presumption that a testimony of a relative is tainted, we cannot but cast an eye of suspicion on the testimonies of appellant’s close relatives. It is the natural tendency of a person to testify for and not against his relatives. In People vs. Ching,43 we ruled:
“It is but natural, although morally unfair, for a close relative to give weight to blood ties and close relationship in times of dire needs especially when a criminal case is involved.”
We quote the clear and straightforward account of the incident by prosecution witnesses Jose Noe, Sr. and Ronald Terte. Jose testified:
Q You just stated what you saw, but the accused claimed that it was the deceased Manny Quinto who tried to stab Dionisio Vicente, is that correct?
A No, because I have seen with my own eyes that he was the one who made the thrust against Manny Quinto and in fact I saw his knife.
Q The accused testified that it was the victim who first stabbed the accused, what can you say about that?
A It is not true, sir.
Q What is true, what took place?
A The one I saw that Dionisio Vicente drew his knife and immediately made thrust against Manny Quinto and then he returned to his back and went away.
Q Where is the knife?
A I don’t know where is that knife but at the time of the incident I saw him returned at his back after he stabbed Manny Quinto, sir.
Q The accused testified that he was stabbed initially by the victim with the victim’s knife, what can you say about that?
A No, sir, that’s not true because I was there and I saw it with my own eyes and my distance from him was only one arm length away.
Q About the knife, was it the knife of the victim that was used by the accused to stab the victim or what?
A The knife was owned by the accused.
Q The accused testified that when the victim stabbed him, the accused wrestled the weapon from the victim and then stabbed the victim and returned, is that what took place?
A How could he get that knife from the victim since I saw it with my own eyes that he was the one who drew the knife and stabbed Manny Quinto.”44
Ronald Terte corroborated the foregoing testimony when he candidly narrated:
x x x x x x
Q You have just stated, Mr. witness, that you and the deceased were instructors of martial arts especially on self-defense and you said that Manuel Quinto will not need a knife to defend himself; my question is considering that you were an eyewitness, did he or did he not make a thrust towards the direction of the accused?
A It was not Manny Quinto who made a thrust against Dionisio Vicente but it was Dionisio Vicente who made a thrust against Manny Quinto, sir.
Q According to the accused, when Manny Quinto made that attempt to thrust the knife, Dionisio Vicente twisted and grabbed and forced it right to the breast of Manny Quinto; as an eyewitness, what can you say to that?
A That is not true, sir, because again it was not Manny Quinto who drew the knife and stabbed Dionisio Vicente but it was Dionisio Vicente who drew his knife and unexpectedly made a thrust against Manny Quinto which caused his death.
Q When the deceased Manny Quinto extended his hand towards the accused, did Manny Quinto say anything to the accused?
A Manny Quinto did not utter any word but as I understood since Kgd. Fernandez was there, he gave respect to Kgd. Fernandez who was settling the dispute between him and Dionisio Vicente so Manny Quinto extended his hand to Dionisio Vicente for a handshake, sir.
x x x x x x
Q After Manny Quinto was stabbed by Dionisio Vicente, what happened next?
A When Manny Quinto was stabbed , he uttered the following ‘Pare, I was hit’ and he immediately ran home.
Q Will you tell the Honorable Court where in your body was Manny Quinto specifically hit?
A Here, sir. (Witness pointing to his left chest)
Q Did you see the weapon that was used by Dionisio Vicente in stabbing Manuel Quinto?
A Yes, sir.
Q How does it look like?
A The rambo knife which I saw when we were in the house of Dionisio Vicente, sir.
Q How many stabs were made by Dionisio Vicente against Manny Quinto?
A Only one stab, sir.
Q When Manny Quinto was hit and he ran towards their house, were you still at the scene of the incident?
A I was just there, sir. In fact, I even saw Dionisio Vicente when he returned the Rambo knife to the scabbard then speedily walked towards the east.”45
Notwithstanding the grueling cross-examination by the defense counsel, both witnesses were able to survive the ordeal without deviating from their direct testimonies. Their testimonies meet the test of credibility because of their being corroborated on material points. They were one in saying that (a) the victim was not in a hostile mood when he approached appellant; (b) it was appellant who stabbed the victim; (c) the weapon used was a knife; and (d) there was no struggle between the parties over the possession of the knife. Their testimony that the victim was stabbed once in his chest was further corroborated by Dr. Rivera who testified that his death was due to “Cardiorespiratory arrest secondary to hypovolemic shock due to a stab wound.”46
But above all, what convinces us to affirm the trial court’s finding is the presence of badges of guilt that renders appellant’s claim of self-defense dubious and unworthy of belief. First, the victim suffered a fatal wound at the chest. It lacerated his vital organs. The location of the wound belies and negates the claim of self-defense. It demonstrates a criminal mind resolved to end the life of the victim. Second, appellant failed to inform the authorities that he acted in self-defense. And third, he failed to surrender the knife to the authorities. We have ruled that failure to inform the authorities of the unlawful aggression on the part of the victim and to surrender the knife used in stabbing him militates against the claim of self-defense.47 In People vs. Mier,48 we also held that the non-presentation of the weapon which was allegedly used by the victim in attacking the accused and the failure of the defense to account for its non-presentation are fatal to the accused’s plea of self-defense.
In self-defense, the burden of proof rests upon the accused. His duty is to establish self-defense by clear and convincing evidence, otherwise conviction would follow from his admission that he killed the victim.49 Here, appellant miserably failed to discharge such burden.
The trial court also held that the crime committed by appellant is qualified by treachery.1âwphi1 There is treachery when the offender commits any of the crimes against persons, employing means, methods or forms in the execution thereof which tend directly and specially to insure its execution without risk to himself arising from the defense which the offended party might make.50
Treachery is present in this case. The fact that the attack is frontal does not negate the finding of treachery. Even a frontal attack can be treacherous if sudden and unexpected and the victim is unarmed.51 Here, the victim was suddenly stabbed when he was extending his hand to the appellant. With his mindset, the victim could not have any inkling that there was danger to his life when he approached appellant.
In People vs. Tobias52 we held that what is decisive is that the execution of the attack made it impossible for the victim to defend himself or retaliate. In this case, the suddenness of the attack deprived the victim of the opportunity to repel it or defend his person. There being treachery, appellant’s conviction of murder is in order.
Significantly, the trial court should have appreciated in favor of appellant the mitigating circumstance of voluntary surrender under Article 13 of the Revised Penal Code. For voluntary surrender to be considered as a mitigating circumstance, the following requisites must concur: (1) the offender has not been actually arrested; (2) he surrenders himself to a person in authority; and (3) the surrender is voluntary. Here, appellant, after the commission of the crime, immediately placed himself in the disposition of Kagawad Fernandez who, in turn, brought him to the police station. Under Section 388 of the Local Government Code (Republic Act No. 7160),53 for purposes of the Revised Penal Code, Kagawad Fernandez is a person in authority. Clearly, the mitigating circumstance of voluntary surrender is present here.
Under Article 24854 of the Revised Penal Code, the penalty for murder is reclusion perpetua to death. Article 63 of the same Code provides that the lesser of the two indivisible penalties shall be imposed, there being a mitigating circumstance attending the commission of the crime and there being no aggravating circumstance.
In keeping with the current jurisprudence, the heirs of the victim are entitled to the amount of ₱50,000.00 by way of civil indemnity ex delicto.55 As regards the actual damages, it appears that out of the ₱88,000.00 awarded by the trial court, only ₱36,000.0056 was actually supported by receipts. The rest was based solely on a list prepared by the victim’s mother. To be entitled to actual damages, it is necessary to prove the actual amount of loss with a reasonable degree of certainty, premised upon competent proof and on the best evidence obtainable to the injured party.57 We therefore find it appropriate to reduce the award of actual damages to ₱36,000.00. The moral damages awarded in the amount of ₱50,000.00 is affirmed, there being evidence that because of the victim’s death, his heirs suffered wounded feelings, mental anguish, anxiety and similar injury.58 Considering that a qualifying aggravating circumstance of treachery is present here, exemplary damages in the sum of ₱25,000.00 are likewise awarded to the victim’s heirs.59
WHEREFORE, the appealed Decision finding appellant Dionisio Q. Vicente guilty of the crime of murder and sentencing him to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua is AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION in the sense that he is ordered to pay the heirs of the late Manny C. Quinto, Jr. the amounts of ₱50,000.00 as civil indemnity, ₱36,0000.00 as actual damages, ₱50,000.00 as moral damages, ₱25,000.00 as exemplary damages and ₱10,000.00 as attorney’s fees.
Costs de oficio.
Puno, (Chairman), Panganiban, Corona, and Carpio-Morales, JJ., concur.
1 Reyes, The Revised Penal Code, Fourteenth Edition, 1998, Book I at 151.
2 Rollo at 16-34, penned by Judge Luis M. Fontanilla.
3 Id. at 5.
4 Records at 50.
5 TSN, September 24, 1998 at 9.
7 Id. at 11-12.
8 Id. at 10.
9 Id. at 15-16.
10 Id. at 25-26.
11 Id. at 27.
14 Id. at 28.
15 Id. at 29.
16 TSN, September 3, 1998 at 7.
17 TSN, November 9, 1998 at 2-3.
19 Id. at 4.
20 Id. at 6.
21 Id. at 7.
23 Id. at 8.
24 Id. at 9.
25 TSN, October 29, 1998 at 16 and 21.
27 Id. at 23.
30 Id. at 5.
33 Id. at 6.
34 Id. at 13.
35 Rollo at 33-34.
36 Id. at 16.
37 Id. at 55.
39 People vs. Boniao, G.R. No. 100800, January 27, 1993, 217 SCRA 653.
43 310 Phil. 269 (1995).
44 TSN, October 29, 1998 at 24-26.
45 TSN, November 9, 1998 at 8-10.
46 Records at 11.
47 People vs. Figuracion, 415 Phil. 12 (2001); Ingles vs. Court of Appeals, 336 Phil. 118 (1997).
48 G.R. No. 130598, February 3, 2000, 324 SCRA 628.
49 People vs. Clemente, G.R. No. L-23463, September 28, 1967, 21 SCRA 261; People vs. Corecor, G.R. No. L-63155, March 21, 1988, 159 SCRA 84.
52 334 Phil. 881 (1997).
53 SEC. 388. Persons in Authority. – For purposes of the Revised Penal Code, the punong barangay, sangguniang barangay members, and members of the lupong tagapamayapa in each barangay shall be deemed as persons in authority in their jurisdictions, while other barangay officials and members who maybe designated by law or ordinance and charged with the maintenance of public order, protection and security of life and property, or the maintenance of a desirable and balanced environment, and any barangay member who comes to the aid of persons in authority, shall be deemed agents of persons in authority.
54 Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code provides:
“ART. 248. Murder. – Any person who, not falling within the provisions of Article 246 shall kill another, shall be guilty of murder and shall be punished by reclusion perpetua to death x x x.”
56 Records at 98-101 and 109.